is a tale of two cities, a tale of what might
have been and what now may never be. It is the
tale of a halfhearted gamble lost by swaggering,
halfhearted men, and of two countries that will
suffer the consequence of their callowness for
is the hometown of Saddam Hussein, and early in
our occupation it was a feared town of hard cases
and Baathist loyalists, of men who shared Saddam's
tribe, wealth and cruelty. But while much of Iraq
has erupted in violence in recent months, Tikrit
has been largely silent, tranquil in the calm
of the pacified. Fearsome Tikrit generates no
headlines and few bodies.
explanation is simple. The Army's 1st Infantry
Division is headquartered in Tikrit, and its footprint
has been heavy and it has been felt. U.S. troops
patrol the streets in relative safety, because
here, if nowhere else in Iraq, they have been
given the numbers to squelch opposition. "I can
sit on that corner, on 'RPG Alley,' and eat an
ice cream cone now," Lt. Col. Jeffrey Sinclair
recently told the Associated Press, pointing on
a map to the infamous city's most infamous street.
the invasion, the haughty amateurs who planned
this brave adventure were warned that hundreds
of thousands of troops would be needed to pacify
Iraq. Rather than listen and learn, they scoffed
at the four-star generals who spouted such nonsense.
These men knew better, for in the Washington think
tanks that had nurtured them like fragile hothouse
orchids, eager Iraqi exiles had assured them that
if we invaded, we would be greeted as liberators,
that our path would be strewn with roses, that
our leaders would be honored with statues on Baghdad
by its silence, condemns those men for their arrogance.
Here, at the very core of Saddam's strength, the
difficult has been achieved. The calm may be a
sullen calm, an enforced calm, but it is a calm
nonetheless. This is what might have been elsewhere
in Iraq if competence had been valued over blind
allegiance, if we had been led into this war by
serious people who understood that when you bet
high stakes, you play to win and you assume nothing.
now, administration officials stubbornly deny
that more troops would help. They do so because
they know that no troops are available, and that
they have so alienated our allies that no help
can come from that quarter either.
consequences are on clear display in Fallujah,
barely 80 miles from Tikrit.
no American dares to set foot in the city. A place
that we once controlled has slipped from our grasp
because we lack the manpower to hold it, and in
our absence the city has become a cancer spreading
death throughout Iraq. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the
Jordanian terrorist who beheads innocent civilians
on videotape, is believed to operate from a safe
haven in Fallujah. Many of the car bombs that
wreak havoc in Baghdad on an almost daily basis
are assembled in Fallujah and then driven out
of the city unhindered.
yet our troops sit outside the city and do nothing.
Last spring, after a Fallujah mob captured and
mutilated four American contractors, officials
in Washington ordered Marines to retaliate and
retake the city. But after three days of fighting,
and with victory in sight, Washington reversed
its order. The politicians who strut and celebrate
themselves as tough guys could not take the heat.
PR slicks at the Pentagon called the move a "strategic
repositioning," but it was a retreat. The insurgents
knew it and took heart. The Marines, who lost
six of their colleagues for nothing, knew it too,
and felt sick to their stomachs. After surrendering
command of the Fallujah area this month, Marine
Lt. Gen. James T. Conway publicly criticized that
vacillation by his superiors. "Once you commit,"
he said, "you have to stay committed."
the people who once styled themselves as the vanguard
of a new American century stare at their disaster
and have no idea what to do next. They have proved
to have more ambition than guts, more bravado
than real conviction, and that has never worked
out well. Not this time, not ever. It's heartbreaking
what they've done.
Posted: September 27, 2004